Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Further Shore

“Human beings suffer,

They torture one another,

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols

Beat on their bars together.

A hunger-striker's father

Stands in the graveyard dumb.

The police widow in veils

Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don't hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:

The utter, self-revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there's fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.”
—Seamus Heaney, from The Cure at Troy

The words have been stuck in my head, going round and round like a tangled rope. Particularly everything from “Believe that a further shore” to “double-take of feeling.” Some mornings, I wake up and have to read the poem before I can do anything else. There is nothing I want more than that further shore, on the far side of revenge, where hope and history rhyme and where we all rise up and turn the tides of endless gaols, visible and invisible. 

And this further shore, it is no new territory to be found on any map. We’ll be using the same land, the same water, navigating by the same stars we always have. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, so this further shore is right here, just waiting for us to see it and treat it—and each other—better. The better world that is possible, the further shore that we hunger for, we’re each all that is standing in our own way.

And, often and increasingly often, I think that we’re going to get there. In our thousand little boats and each building our own bridges and paths, there is a common hunger fueling more people than I can guess, reaching, straining for the further shore. On good days, it’s not that I can almost taste it, but that I can.

They are not all good days. We suffer, we torture one another, we torture ourselves with what we think we want or need or should want and need. We are trapped in unkind systems that judge and rank on metrics that cannot compute heart and soul and the deep keening yen to make this great voyage to the further shore. Student loans, gas prices, credit ratings, carbon levels, salaries, particulate matter, lost acreage of wild lands and home places, annual snowfall, disappearing species, average temperature…there are innumerable numbers to build yourself a jail from. I do, on the dark days.

And then the further shore seems more and more distant. I cry with frustration at the bars of this world, at the corners I’ve got myself into, at the debts I owe for my education, debts that the jobs I work barely touch. And, compared to people who are struggling to shelter and feed themselves and their loved ones, who are stuck in deep ruts of injustice and fear and sad habits and grown-gloomy hopes, my troubles are mortifyingly small. But, I do know the frustration of feeling trapped, the tight-chested anxiety of thinking nothing will ever change, of being too worried to even dream of a further shore. It breaks something deep inside me to think that the pieces of this world, the shards that we cling to and that seem to cling to us, could prevent building something better.

My latest get out of jail card has been this poem. If we believe in something, and act on that belief, it’s far more likely to happen than if we wring our hands in fear and doubt. Of course, belief is no guarantee of success, but here, more than anything else I’ve ever contemplated, the journey is the destination. It’ll take a miracle to storm the castle, to get to the further shore. It is a miracle that anyone believes we can, and that belief is the miracle it’ll take.

This is the linchpin, rocket-fuel, unfoiled gunpowder plot of it all: the miracle is self-healing. The miracle of the further shore both comes from within and heals what is lacking within. Our own belief in change is the change necessary. And no one will save us, except for our own selves. It is hard to own that, but very sweet to realize the power you still have, when the world’s systems beg to crush you and obscure the view of the distant shore.

It can waver, this belief. It will. The toils and snares and traps and jails and hungry, heartless systems…they do not disappear just because you recognize their futility and meanness. But, we are on more solid footing than a cartoon coyote, running off a cliff. We can look down and see real the real ground we walk on, towards the further shore. We can look around and see the others—friends and strangers—who are moving on a tidal wave of knowing better things are possible. They'll hold us up when we need it, we hold them up too. Just by hungering for the further shore, we make it more attainable. Imagine what more belief and more action would do. Will do. 

The double-take of feeling…to me, that is like getting an extra heartbeat, turning hope into belief, thought to action, knowledge to power, anxiety to peace, whatever transition is necessary to crack your particular bars and come along to the further shore. It is reachable from here.

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